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The Gift of Unlimited Upside by Mike Hannan
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As a teenager, I was addicted to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Douglas Adams’ masterpiece was filled with wry observations about human nature and one scene in particular has been coming back to me recently. In it, the Golgafrinchams are trying to invent the wheel. They make a total hash of it, but the only thing they worry about is what colour it should be. Classic!
Nobody has really reinvented the wheel for a few thousand years now, so why, oh why, do so many PMOs try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to prioritizing projects?
Nearly two thirds of PMOs identify resourcing or prioritization as their top challenge.
But these are topics that are not massively difficult to address. In fact our consulting partners deal with these topics time and again with their customers.
And yet one of those partners, Greg Gomel, during a recent podcast on this exact topic mentioned that he often feels like the stereotypical consultant borrowing his customers watch and then telling them the time when he talks about this stuff. Why?
How often have you heard the cry, “If we just did without a project manager we could save a load of money!”
Of course it's nonsense. For any project worthy of the name, a professional project manager will reduce the risk and overall cost of implementation. No "serious" professional would really strip out all the PMs.
Yet “Why are we spending all this money on a PMO?“ is a common cry, one that poses a real threat both to the PMO and the success of the portfolio. Only half of PMOs survive the first few years (APM). In fact, according to ESI research, 72% of PMOs are called into question by the executive team.
Look at it this way; without a conductor, an orchestra would produce a terrible cacophony. (Disclosure: my brother plays in one of the world's top orchestras). It's the same for a project portfolio… only the costs of a weak portfolio can be much worse than the noise of bunch of unsupervised musicians.
In short, the business case for the PMO is every bit as strong as the business case for the project manager.
Half of new PMOs are shut down within 3 years1. Scary… and it reminds me a bit of a TV program we have in the UK.
Grand Designs follows a member of the public who has taken on a massive project: building a new home. The homes are usually rather grand (hence the title) or unusual (one guy built a house out of straw, another built a cave-house).
Most of the “victims” have chosen to act as project manager themselves. Why do they make that decision? Well, they believe it will save money and, really, how hard can it be? Yet this one decision – to take on the project management themselves - is often the root cause of many of massive cost over-runs, delays and sleepless nights.
Setting up a PMO is a little bit like building a house, only worse. So, what’s to be done?
On a recent webinar with Johanna Rothman (author of loads of books on project management, program management, portfolio management and, I suspect, other things beginning with “P” that need managing!), she made the point that it’s not important how many projects you start. What’s important is how many you finish and that they deliver business value.
If you only score points for finished projects, let’s figure out how to get more points on the board!